• Monday, Aug 08, 2022
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The fight to save Dhaka's 'oxygen bank'

  • Published at 04:44 pm May 8th, 2021
Tree felling Suhrawardy
Workers cutting trees in the Suhrawardy Udyan premises UNB

The government will construct a 6.5km walkway and seven food courts on the premises of Suhrawardy Udyan

Suhrawardy Udyan is often described as Dhaka's oxygen bank due to a lush canopy of trees. But the historic park seems to be under threat, having already lost a major portion of its green cover to an ongoing redevelopment project.

While authorities claim the project was undertaken to beautify Suhrawardy Udyan, citizens and green activists say trees are being chopped to make way for concrete structures on the pretext of beautification of the park.

The Ministry of Liberation War Affairs and the Ministry of Housing and Public Works are jointly implementing the development project worth Tk265.44 crore. The project kicked off on January 1, 2018, with June 2022 being the completion deadline.

Under the project, the government will construct a 6.5km walkway and seven food courts on the premises of the park. National Development Engineers Ltd has won the contract to execute the project.

However, different environmental organizations and regular visitors to the park, including students of Dhaka University, have of late intensified their protest against what they claim is the destruction of the park that is home to a variety of birds and animals.

A reality check by UNB on Friday revealed that a number of trees were felled in the park for the beautification project.

"They are building some concrete structures by cutting trees. These trees provide shelter to homeless people like us at night,” said Alauddin, one of the many who sleep under the trees in the Udyan.

On Wednesday, a group of environmental activists and students of different universities,  under the banner of Swadhinata Udyan Sangskritik Jote, formed a human chain at the Suhrawardy Udyan entrance in the afternoon to protest against the rampant felling of trees.

Also Read: Inside the Suhrawardy Udyan redesign

The protesters demanded that those behind the cutting of trees be brought to book, an immediate end to tree feeling and 10,000 saplings be planted in the rainy season.

"Trees at Suhrawardy Udyan are indiscriminately being felled in the name of development. It is happening at the behest of some profit-hungry groups," said poet Bikash Majumder. "What is the need for seven restaurants in this part of the city?"

According to the protesters, birds of many species, such as doel, shyama, shalik and bulbuli are at risk of losing their habitats. Fern, shrubs, bees, snakes, bats and butterflies that enrich the biodiversity of the park are also at risk due to this project.

"Humans cannot put birds and animals in danger like this. We can carry out development without disturbing nature, but the government has chosen to destroy it," a protester said.

M Zakir Hossain Khan, honorary executive director of Change Initiative, said the decline in trees would take a toll on the city's climate.

"Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the environment, lowering the atmospheric temperature. Dhaka dwellers are facing heat waves because of diminishing green belts in the city as well as increasing concrete structures," he added.

Subrata Kumar Das, a Supreme Court lawyer, said all the ongoing development projects were aimed at setting up more brick-and-mortar establishments and not for the environment.

"We expected that the government would spare important green zones like Suhrawardy Udyan and Ramna Park. But Dhaka's oxygen bank, Suhrawardy Udyan, is being destroyed," he said.

When contacted, an official of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, told UNB that the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs is executing the project. "Indeed some trees falling in the way of the construction layout have been cut down for development work," he said.  

However, Kamrul Islam, General Manager of National Development Engineers Ltd, said that "the government will plant 1,000 trees in the park in a planned way."